Wildcats tide balanced attack, team play to victory
By Kyle LoJacono
Wharton boys basketball didn’t just beat North Port in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals Feb. 14 at home, they forced a running clock in the fourth quarter to take the contest 76-39.
The Wildcats (23-4) rode a balanced attack to the lopsided victory with five players reaching double-digit points.
“That’s a coach’s dream,” said Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli. “Getting five guys in double digits means they can’t lock in on one or two guys, but we’re very team oriented. That’s how we operate. We’re all about being a team on both ends of the floor.”
The offense was led by CJ McGill’s 24 points and seven assists.
The senior point guard punished the Bobcats (14-14) for giving him space on the parameter by hitting four 3-pointers before halftime. North Port started stepping out to contest his shot after halftime, so McGill began driving to the basket for layups.
“CJ just did what he always does,” Tonelli said. “He takes what they give him. He knows what his role is, and he knows what he has to do to help the team win. He’s doing a great job, and his teammates feed off of him. He’s all about the team.”
The 5-foot-8 McGill also crashed the boards and pulled down nine rebounds.
“That’s CJ McGill for you,” said junior forward Chase Litton. “He’s probably the most underrated kid I’ve ever played with, and probably one of the best I’ve ever played with. He can do it all. He can shoot; he can drive. Wish he was a little bit bigger, but other than that he can do it all.”
Litton posted a double-double with 10 rebounds and 12 points, 10 of which came after halftime when the Wildcats started attacking the Bobcats in the paint.
“In the first half they were jumping on screens from our guards, and we started noticing that in the second half,” Litton said. “When they started jumping out after screens we started kicking it in for easy buckets.”
Senior guard Virgil Crump added an early offensive spark off the bench by scoring all 10 of his points in the first quarter.
“I was ready; I was up for this game,” Crump said. “All day in school I was thinking about this game right here. Wanted to help my team get this win.”
Wharton also got double-digit scoring from senior Sir Patrick Reynolds (13 points) and Jaken Grier (10 points). Reynolds, a forward/guard, added seven rebounds, while Grier, a guard, posted five rebounds and five assists.
“We’ve got a lot of senior leadership with CJ, Sir Patrick, Jaken, Tyler Langston and Virgil coming off the bench,” Tonelli said. “That’s five seniors right there who have been through a lot and been in tough situations. I would expect great leadership in these kinds of games from those guys.”
The Wildcats led 40-22 at halftime, but didn’t let up with a 12-3 run coming out of the break.
“Coach said we got 16 minutes left, and we need to treat it like we’re down and it’s our last game,” Crump said. “We needed to keep pushing and keep playing.”
McGill said they’ve fallen into the trap of slowing down after piling up a big lead, but weren’t going to let it happen against the Bobcats.
“Some games we’ll play the first 16 minutes hard and get a big lead, but then just kind of relax,” McGill said. “Tonight we wanted to keep going for 32 minutes.”
The blowout victory comes a year after Wharton lost at home in the regional quarterfinals 64-63 to East Lake.
“It hurt so much last year to lose on our home court,” McGill said. “We didn’t want that to happen again. We weren’t going to let that happen again, and we got it done.”
Litton added, “We didn’t want to make a statement per say, but we wanted to show that we’re not a one and done team. We just came out and showed what we can do, and the score speaks for itself.”
Tonelli said he talked with his players about the previous year’s disappointment leading up to the game against North Port.
“I told the guys that there’s only one way to put last year behind us and having people talk about it, and that was to come out and win this game,” Tonelli said. “Take care of this game, and it takes the sting out from last year. It was about moving forward.”
The Wildcats travel to Sarasota Riverview Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. for the regional semifinals. A victory would allow Wharton to host the winner of the Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast-Orlando University contest in the regional finals Feb. 23, also at 7 p.m.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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